Schooled Reporting on education

Inside the outbreak: Teaching and feeding

Education | Families and educators search for creative solutions during the pandemic
by Bob Brown
Posted 3/18/20, 04:24 pm

More schools in the United States are closed than open as states try to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Students and their families face challenges and uncertainty not only about how they will learn, but also how to provide for the needs that schools meet for meals, special education, and disability accommodations.

Brielle Landman, a 10th grader at Champion Christian School in Champion, Pa., said her ADHD makes it difficult to keep to a schedule on her own.

“I struggle a bit more being out of the classroom,” she said about the prospect of long-term online assignments. But on the “bright side,” she said she’s finding more time to practice piano, read books, and spend time with her parents.

Champion Executive Director D. Merle Skinner said faculty and technology staff are available to students “personally, online, and on-site.”

Other schools have planned for prolonged school closures: For two years, Johnstown Christian School in Hollsopple, Pa., has held “virtual school days” whenever bad weather closed the campus, making its high school students and teachers “well prepared for online learning,” according to Dean of Students Margaret Adkins.

But many families and schools are not prepared. Recent data from the Pew Research Center show a large number of households do not have devices suitable for children to do their online school assignments. While 92 percent of households earning at least $75,000 annually have a high-speed internet connection, only 56 percent of households earning less than $30,000 do.

Pew also found that a significantly higher proportion of lower-income families are “smartphone-only” households and do not have a computer to type essays or a printer for assignments that require paper printouts.

Even if a household makes the technological grade, parents might not have the time to supervise children as they take classes at home, especially younger ones. Many blue-collar workers can’t just work at home. And since 1 in 4 children have only one adult in the household, many will have to fend for themselves while their parents continue to work. Only three states have laws regarding the minimum age a child can be left home alone.

Meanwhile, schools are scrambling to adjust to the nationwide homeschooling landscape. One survey found that 4 in 10 school districts are not ready to deliver remote learning, and the number of districts that can tele-teach students with disabilities is even smaller.

Federal guidelines released Thursday mandate that if schools provide educational opportunities to the general student population during the closure, they must also ensure students with disabilities have equal access to those same opportunities. A U.S. Department of Education video posted Tuesday reinforced the standard. School systems without the tools to meet the equity requirements, like the Mukilteo School District in northwest Washington state, are opting not to offer online classes to any students.

In 2018, schools dished out free or reduced-price lunches to 30 million children. Despite the logistical complexities involved, many school systems are finding ways to feed students during the coronavirus pandemic.

Seattle’s Northshore School District provides free meals at more than 30 locations for children 18 and under whether or not they are enrolled in the district. Students in Washington, D.C., can pick up free meals at 16 locations during the closure. School cafeterias will remain open in Boone County, Ky.

New Mexico, which has the nation’s second-highest rate of childhood poverty, decided it would close all schools but leave most of their cafeterias open. And it’s preparing to deliver meals to children who can’t get to them, according to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “I will make the decisions that protect … the wrap-around services and supports that make families and businesses as whole as we can,” she said.

Facebook/TUSKEGEE UNIVERSITY Facebook/TUSKEGEE UNIVERSITY The Tuskegee University campus in Alabama

Smaller class sizes

While enrollment at undergraduate institutions across the country followed a slight downward trend between 2010 and 2017, historically black colleges and universities saw their numbers drop more dramatically. Nationally, undergraduate enrollment decreased by 7 percent from 2010 to 2017, compared with an 11 percent decline at HBCUs.

Joseph Montgomery, vice president of enrollment management at Tuskegee University, an HBCU in Alabama, said many four-year schools have ended the requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores, “clearing the path for predominantly white institutions to increase their diversity.”

Clenard Childress, a regional director of the Life Education and Resource Network, a leading African American pro-life group, pointed to abortion as another culprit negatively affecting HBCU enrollment.

“The black birth rate is below replacement,” he said. “Because of abortion, there are simply fewer black students to recruit from.” The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute reports the rate of abortion among African American women is almost five times higher than among white women.

To combat the enrollment downturn, many HBCUs recruit international students. At Tennessee State University, 11 percent of students come from other countries, mostly from Saudi Arabia.

African American students made up 76 percent of enrollment at HBCUs in 2018, down from about 85 percent in 1976. —B.B.


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Bob Brown

Bob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course.

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